Sometimes a book completely resonates. It’s often just a matter of timing- it fulfils all you are looking for in a reading experience at that present time, even if you’re not always aware that is what you’re looking for. When this happens, these tend to be the books that stay with you.
I wasn’t aware that I was yearning for an Irish-set family saga which dealt in secrets, infused with a nostalgic glow but hiding a tale of darkness but I obviously was as this book had me right from the start and didn’t let go.
I read Graham Norton’s debut “Holding” pre-publication in 2016 and I certainly did not know what to expect and was most taken aback by his understated slice of small-town Irish life. From the personality on the screen and from his autobiographies I’d made an assumption of what kind of novel he might write. At the time I stated; “It certainly wasn’t the book I was expecting him to write. I was expecting sharp, brittle humour and a much more glitzy affair.” I’ve recommended this book to many readers since then, especially when I wanted to shake up people’s perceptions but I hadn’t got round to reading anything else by him.
Now he is a very much established author of four novels with critical acclaim matching his commercial success, especially in his homeland where he has won the Popular Fiction Book Of The Year twice at the Irish Book Awards (but not with this book, although it was nominated as it was for the UK Book Awards ). I think on the strength of this Graham Norton deserves his place amongst the finest Irish novelists of our time.
We have two interspersing narratives, “Now” and “Then”. This structure can be hit and miss as readers tend to favour one or the other and rush through to get to the strand they are enjoying the most, I don’t really have that much of a problem with this structure although I have heard readers complaining about it. For me, it certainly works well here as the “Then” informs the “Now” throughout. I think the danger comes when you have two seemingly disparate strands and you spend much of the book waiting for them to mesh together.
There’s a prologue “Before” which is a bit enigmatic but just needs to be kept in mind. I found myself turning back at a couple of points in the novel and re-reading this.
New York resident Elizabeth Keane has returned to Ireland to sort out her dead mother’s house. She discovers letters which suggest she does not know her mother’s life at all. “Then” features Patricia’s story behind those letters. Seeing the plot laid out like that it doesn’t sound all that original but I think the author handles the plotline skilfully and weaves a tale which really drew this reader in.
His characterisation is strong. I really enjoyed both “Now” and “Then” and his feel for the Irishness within the world he creates felt spot-on for his debut and even more so here. Some of the minor characters are beautifully realised and this reminded me of Donal Ryan, one of the finest contemporary Irish writers. Norton certainly knows what he is doing within his popular fiction framework to keep the reader involved. Secrets are revealed unexpectedly, there’s humour, darkness, a strong feel of the environment with the 1970s small-town coastal setting coming across so well in the “Then” sections. Also, I slowed down towards the end because I was reluctant to finish the experience- another signifier that this book deserves my highest rating. Once again Graham Norton has surprised me.
A Keeper was first published in the UK by Hodder and Stoughton in 2018.
3 thoughts on “A Keeper – Graham Norton (2018)”
This book was already on my TBR. Your review has convinced me to move it up the queue. Thanks.
Thanks for the comment. I was really pleasantly surprised by this book. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
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